Thomas Adams(1) ( Biographical note )

Landscape Architecture 8 (April 1918):109-124.

In this article Adams drew on his extensive knowledge of pre-war new town planning in Britain as well proposals made in that country to house World War I workers and their families in new, garden city-like developments. He issued a strong plea in this paper for at least one such project in the United States, suggesting that it be built as a demonstration of what sound urban planning could create. As the former manager of Letchworth, the first English garden city, Adams knew its financial history at first hand. His paper provides valuable information about the early years of that project and the increase in land value created by the Letchworth Garden City Company, Ltd. that began operations in 1903.
The social and industrial problems which are having to be faced because of war conditions do not differ in character from those which have to be faced in times of peace. But the fact of their urgency and local intensity, due to the artificial stimulus that is given to war industries in some places and the fact that public attention is being focused upon them in connection with national defence, give them the appearance of being new problems. Hence, the greater need for constructive statesmanship to deal with them. The things that are demanded of public leaders today are courage, rapid decision, and imagination, rather than the timid, indecisive, and dilatory methods of the legal mind that controls our policies under normal conditions. We have to take risks whether we will or no. We have to cease raking up ashes of precedents. We have to think in terms of big ideas as well as of big sums of money.

This war is being fought, as has been said, not only to make the world safe for democracy but also to make democracy safe for the world. But to make democracy safe we have to overthrow its enemies at home as well as abroad; we have to find means to lessen the ignorance and imprudence that grow up from lack of education and from unhealthy living conditions. At the foundation of all democracies is the character of the people--educated or uneducated, healthy or unhealthy, contented or discontented. Educated people know that real education is as much a matter of environment as a matter of instruction. Unhealthy social conditions not only lower vitality and lessen efficiency, but form one of the chief causes of industrial unrest.(2)

To make democracy strong and lasting, to make it worth fighting and dying for, all democratic nations will have to use more aggressive measures in the future to improve the character and physique of their citizens. In the last few years we have seen a misguided autocracy destroy the hoarded money wealth of generations. Some day a badly housed, over-urbanized, impoverished democracy might do the same with the very wealth that had been built up out of their enslavement in poverty and slums. Public instruction in schools endangers, rather than safeguards, a democracy when the people suffer from bad social conditions. On this continent we have the greater and not the lesser responsibility because we have to train and improve a mixed people, including many who are without traditions of political freedom, advantages of education, or ambition to enjoy a better standard of comfort in their homes.

Slavery will never be dead so long as slums exist. Every effort that is made to remove bad housing conditions in America is in the direction of giving reality to the Declaration of Independence. In Germany, bad housing does not matter so much, as the State is managed for the people, not by them; but in the United States and Canada, future progress depends on the growth of intelligence of the mass of the people. But the poverty and overcrowding of the big city on the one hand, and the poverty and isolation of the remote rural district on the other hand, are both destroying intelligence and causing physical and moral degeneration. It is open to question whether the gains of modern science in matters connected with public health, of the costly municipal improvements, and of public instruction in the schools are not more than counterbalanced by the losses due to insanitary conditions, haphazard distribution of the population, and the failure of modern nations properly to house their industrial workers.

The Housing Problem Part of the Community Problem.

The housing problem cannot be solved merely by demolishing insanitary houses and erecting sanitary rookeries, nor even by gradually displacing all bad dwellings by good ones. The housing problem is only a part of a wider social problem connected with community life in all its phases. It is largely a problem of the proper or improper development of the land for purposes of industry and shelter, and largely a problem of the proper or improper organization of the social forces of industry. The close connection between town planning and housing, between industrial efficiency and housing, between agricultural production and housing, and between war efficiency and housing is not yet realized on this continent. When the western nations have special departments of the federal and state governments devoting their whole attention to the problems of community development and housing, they will have begun to show adequate recognition of the importance of these problems.

Community Development Artificial in Character.

One of the chief causes of past indifference to bad community development has been the erroneous assumption that it consists of, or is best left to take place as, a "natural growth." Surely, if anything is artificial it is the modern city or town. If anything needs the application of science, and of sane expert and governmental direction to promote healthy and to prevent unhealthy forms of development, it is the industrial community of the present day.

We have not failed to build up wholesome industrial communities; we have not tried to build them. We have left their building to proceed, not only without planning or direction, but with encouragement to land speculation and wasteful systems of land development and with protection to the claimants of artificial rights in property, even when the lives and health of the people have been injured as a result.

We do not want reform of our system of land and housing development; we want to begin to employ system. We do not want to endanger legitimate interests in property but to establish them. We do not want to inaugurate socialistic extremes but to forestall them. We do not want to lessen liberty but to make it more widespread. And, recognizing that life is more important than property, that the aim of all production is life and not money, and that real national wealth is to be measured by the health of the people, we have either to control the right to property so that it shall not endanger the right to live in wholesome surroundings, or face inevitable decay. Thus the practical alternatives which the modern civilized nations have apparently to face are either to apply scientific method to the control and direction of their community life, without interference with equality of opportunity for all its citizens, or to let the present parasitical and disorderly forms of industrial development continue as before--offsetting every effort made to improve the social conditions of the people.

The American Opportunity.

Countries at war see these things under a stronger light than during times of peace, and a special opportunity has now come to America to apply method and organization to the planning and building up of new communities which will help to show the sane and practical lines along which they may direct the growth of both old and new communities when the war is over.

There is no use blinding ourselves to the fact that bad housing and industrial conditions have not been created by the war, but existed, in a large measure, in both the United States and Canada, before the war. Then, as now, though in lesser degree, we had the problem of excessive and unhealthy urbanization of the population, defective means of distribution, and increase in the cost of living; we had the constant haphazard drift of population following the trend of industry to seek new fields; we had the evils of speculation in land taking advantage of every new or growing concentration of population and diverting the increment of values created by the growth of communities into the pockets of non-producers. These problems are old, but of late they have been made more pronounced and more open to the public gaze. The demands of Europe for the surplus food of America and the withdrawal of large numbers of rural workers for military purposes has further increased the cost of living; the diversion of a large fund into Government channels and its redistribution has created a false prosperity which has given the people a larger spending power and further increased the living costs as a result of swollen demand; the creation of war industries on a large scale in new areas has caused unusually rapid movements of population from one district to another and revealed the impotency of private enterprise to provide satisfactory housing accommodation under such conditions; the absorption by the Government of capital otherwise available for building operations has further lessened the ability of private enterprise to engage in such operations, even on a pre-war basis; and the high cost of land within easy reach of transportation and social facilities shows how land speculation hampers the provision of housing accommodation under healthy conditions.

The only really new factors in the situation are, first, that the necessity for rapid production has driven the manufacturers and shipbuilders to see that good housing, accompanied by social organization, is essential to secure efficiency and contentment on the part of labor, and, second, that the federal and state governments have begun to recognize that they have a distinct responsibility to provide the facilities needed for obtaining this efficiency and contentment. Even the first of these new factors is not altogether new, since, for the last decade or more, large industrial trusts, like the Steel Corporation, have shown that they recognized that the housing and social organization of their workers was essential to obtain industrial efficiency. In regard to the second matter it appears to be true in the United States that federal aid to housing is being given purely as a war measure, and not because the Government has any convictions as to its responsibility. Nevertheless, when once the Government enters the field of housing and community development, it will be difficult for it to revert to the old order of things; and with all the advantages it possesses to obtain expert advice and employ a large organization, it should be able to influence enormously the direction and character of housing enterprise in the future.

Much of the work of the Government departments which undertake war housing must be in the direction of housing small groups of workers in numerous localities, and with building up new suburban accretions to existing cities and towns. Problems will arise in connection with all schemes, large and small, as to the best methods of planning, the relative merits of permanent and temporary housing, and as to the apportionment of cost and responsibility between federal and local governments, and between the governments and leaders of industry. These and many other questions cannot be dealt with in this article. The object in writing it is to indicate the great issues at stake and the opportunity presented by the present conditions to impregnate some system and sane methods of organization into community development on this continent.

Why Not Create New Towns?

It is assumed that in some cases at least, such as in the neighborhood of Philadelphia where large shipbuilding developments are taking place, there will be an opportunity for developing one or more complete new towns, self-centered and self-contained, and with all the facilities and social attractions needed to satisfy the needs of the population. In such a case, separation from a large city is desirable, but access to it by rapid means of transportation will probably be an advantage, particularly during the early stages of growth. Will the Government have vision and wisdom enough to create new towns or will it merely provide money to help in perpetuating the disorderly and unscientific methods that have hitherto prevailed? We may accept it as sound doctrine that if it is practicable to encourage the building of new towns of moderate size, with agricultural surroundings, in preference to encouraging the further growth of unwieldy cities, with their concomitant of agricultural isolation, it will be a benefit to the country. What then are the elements that make it practicable or otherwise?

The Garden City Scheme as an Example of Sound Community Development.

The best example of the application of the principle of establishing a new town is to be found in England, in the case of the Garden City at Letchworth. Unfortunately, it is not the example it might have been had the circumstances in which it was first begun been such as to make it a more rapid financial success. For perfectly obvious reasons it has been slow in realizing the financial expectations of its founders, but, as I will endeavor to show, these reasons need not apply in the case of a similar experiment carried out under Government auspices and with sufficient capital, and they do not vitiate in any respect the soundness of the principles underlying the scheme.

The general objects of the scheme may be summarized as follows:

1. The purchase of a large agricultural estate on which to establish an industrial and residential town, principally by securing a concerted movement of manufacturers from crowded centers.

2. The restriction of the area set apart for urban development and the permanent retention of the greater portion of the estate for agricultural purposes.

3. The planning of the whole area in order to secure health, amenity, convenience, and efficiency.

4. The limiting of the dividend to shareholders to, say, 5 per cent per annum, the balance of the profits to be used for the benefit of the town and its inhabitants.

It will be noted that the success of such a scheme would depend on the attractions which could be offered to manufacturers to migrate to the site. To get manufacturers to move to a purely rural territory, 34 miles from a city, meant that they had to have advantages given to them, equal or better than those obtainable in existing centers of population. In the Garden City, the land, having only agricultural value, was cheap to begin with, but that was only one consideration. There were also wanted facilities for obtaining transportation, power, labor, light, water, and roads at reasonable cost. All these had to be created, and created in advance. They had to be supplied at a price which would not exceed the price at which they could be obtained elsewhere, and yet produce adequate returns to the investors. In the early days of the enterprise everything was purely speculative. Labor could not be obtained without housing, so that houses had to be erected before, and not after, a demand was created. As to results, notwithstanding these difficult conditions, it is enough, for present purposes, to say that about thirty factories are now established in the town; that there is a population of over 13,000 living on an area which consisted of bare cultivated fields in 1903.

For the above population there have been provided large waterworks, sewage­disposal works, gasworks, an electricity plant, a new railway station, public buildings, hotels, parks, a golf-course, 10 miles of roads in addition to many miles existing when the estate was purchased, 15 miles of gas-mains, 14 miles of sewers, and other utilities.

The Finance of a Garden City.

I have before me the balance-sheet of September 30, 1917. This shows that, even up to date, the total capital raised in ordinary stock amounts to less than $1,000,000, and that the preference shares, debentures, mortgages, and loans amount to less than $1,600,000. Thus, with a total capital, a large portion of which is secured on freehold properties, of about $2,600,000, a town has been developed for a population of over 13,000, or $2,000 per capita. In some western cities in Canada the assessed value of the land alone amounts to about this figure per capita, and in one city of 15,000 the land value is $1,150. For this $2,000 the Garden City Company, and indirectly the inhabitants of the town for whom the Company acts as a Trust, owns one-third of an acre of land per head, as well as profitable gas and electrical undertakings, hotels, roads, waterworks, sewers, etc., as already enumerated. A considerable portion of the capital of the Company has also been used to finance building operations. The Company has parted with none of the freehold, and the whole increase in the value of the land is accruing for its benefit. After the dividend--restricted to 5 per cent--is paid to the shareholders, the balance of the increment will be returned to the inhabitants.

The gross value of the land and the above undertakings amount to about $3,000,000. If the interests of the Garden City Company could be sold as a going concern, no doubt a price could be obtained which would yield a large profit after paying principal and interest. Had the Company been able to start the project with $3,000,000 capital instead of $1,000,000, it would have been a more rapid success, and perhaps double the present population would have been already in the city. As it is, interest has been regularly paid on all preference shares and loans, and a beginning has been made with the payment of interest on the ordinary stock. During the past year the revenues amount to $145,420, including $70,000 profits on gas, water, electricity (less depreciation), sale of surplus materials, work executed, etc. The land is all leased for ninety-nine years for building at what are known as "ground-rents," and these, amounting to about $35,000, capitalized at twenty years purchase, have a value of $700,000. Not more than eight houses to each acre are permitted to be erected, thus preventing the possibility of overcrowding on the land.

It will be noted that the annual profits from public services (gas, electricity, etc.) amount to twice as much as the increment in land values represented by ground-rents, a fact which indicates one of the chief advantages of the garden city form of development as a means of producing revenue. In establishing new suburbs where there are existing supplies of gas, electricity and water (instead of creating new towns), not only has a larger price to be paid for the land because the public services exist, but a source of revenue, which might possibly exceed that obtained from the increase in land values, is lost.

The chief danger in operating a garden city scheme is that, when it relies on private sources for capital, the amount raised to finance it will be insufficient to carry the enterprise over the period of preliminary development, and that the population will not come rapidly enough to produce the needed revenues. The Letchworth scheme has never been adequately provided with capital, and, if it had, the operations of the Company could have been conducted more economically and the population would have increased with much greater rapidity. At the present moment hundreds of houses are needed to accommodate the demand occasioned by the growing industries of the place, and every new house means increased ground-rents and added profits for public services. But capital is difficult to obtain at present, and the whole scheme is thereby hampered. This explanation is not made by way of excusing failure, as there is every evidence that complete success will come. It is made to show that there are good reasons for the slow realization of the high expectations of the promoters, who had good theoretical grounds for estimating a measure and rapidity of success which would have shown the great superiority of the garden city form of community development over the unscientific and haphazard form which generally prevails.

In creating a garden city founded on the principles already enumerated, by private enterprise, there are, of course, other difficulties than those above referred to, to be encountered. The selection of the site in England, with its feudal land system and its widely spread residential areas, at a reasonable price and yet with the needed requisites for industrial development, was no easy task. The land had to be bought at a low price to enable the Company to offer it at such rates, after it had made roads and provided sewers and water, as would induce manufacturers to move from existing centers. It had also to be bought cheap enough to enable the Company to carry out its principle of reserving two-thirds of the area as an agricultural belt for all time.

When selected, not only had everything to be created, but the usual objections to a novel scheme had to be overcome. The railway company would not build a new station till the people had settled, and the people would not come before transportation facilities were provided. The manufacturer wanted to be assured of the workers, and the workers had to be assured of employment in advance. These difficulties were all overcome by a group of men who had never had any previous experience with a similar undertaking, and the fact that they were overcome with inadequate capital was not a remarkable achievement for the simple reason that the advantages of this method of community development are so many and so great.

The advantages of Community Development on Garden City Principles.

I have only space to enumerate briefly one or two of the advantages--given a suitable site acquired at agricultural value, careful management, and some security of obtaining industries and population. There is, first, the certain increase in the value of the land due to its conversion from agricultural to building uses. Some idea of how great this value may be may be gathered from the following statement made by Dr. Murray Haig with regard to land-value increment created in Gary as a result of the establishment of a new industrial town. After making an investigation, Dr. Murray Haig consolidates the results of this analysis as follows:

"The market value in 1906 of the land in Gary, excluding that occupied by the plants of the steel corporation, is estimated at $6,414,455, and the present value at $33,445,900. The increase in the ten-year period, therefore, amounts to $27,031,445. The examination of the value of the services rendered by those who have come into possession of this increment indicates that an allowance of perhaps $200,000 should be made for necessary administrative expenses, that not more than $1,000,000 should be credited because of taxes advanced on unused lands, and that $4,025,712.70 should be allowed as having been paid by land-owners for local improvements. The total money value of the services of these beneficiaries of the increment amounts then to $5,225,712.70. The amount of the increment which might conceivably have been conserved is thus found to be $21,805,732.30."

The author of this statement admits the possibility of some factors being overlooked, but regards his estimate of increment value as conservative. But even if the value were half the amount given in the estimate, that would be a substantial profit, arising from the creation of a community over a period of ten years.

The investigations made by Dr. Murray Haig and others in the United States show that a fair estimate of the increment of land-value produced by community development, after deducting the value which is attributed to all expenditures for local improvements, etc., is from $400 to $450 per capita. The assessment valuations of Canadian cities confirm this figure. Taking the lower figure, it may be estimated that the creation of a new town of 50,000 people may create an aggregate increment of value of $20,000,000. To this has to be added the profits realizable from the usual municipal services, including transportation, water, power, and light, having regard to the great economy that can be exercised in constructing works on a large scale to supply a demand which is known in advance, and to the saving in heavy costs for land and promotion.

Where a rapid growth of population can be relied on and the site obtained at agricultural rates, it is evident that enormous profits can be made by the creation of new towns. It is not surprising therefore that large manufacturers are giving attention to this form of enterprise.

There are also the opportunities offered by cheap land to provide ample areas for building factories of modern design with ample light and room for expansion. All the factories can be grouped together to lessen costs of distribution of power, light, and water, and to secure convenient access to means of transportation. Haulage can be reduced to the minimum with proper planning and at enormous saving to the manufacturers. Residences for the workers can be grouped near to the places of employment, and great saving effected in the cost of making streets by zoning the city for residences, factories, business, and the like. Open spaces can be provided where the land is least valuable for building, and at agricultural rates. An agricultural belt of land can be permanently reserved to enable intensive culture to be carried on in the immediate vicinity of the town and thereby secure food for the community at the least cost. The example of Letchworth shows the feasibility of all this being done, and the figures of land-values in America show that the profits of such an enterprise would be immensely greater than in England.

An Opportunity for Government Enterprise.

Why should the Government of the United States not use the present opportunity to create at least one object lesson of this kind in America? Not one of the difficulties I have mentioned would stand in its way. It has ample capital and has decided to spend from $50,000,000 to $100,000,000 in housing enterprises. It is already creating new industries of sufficient size and scope for employing a large volume of labor to enable it to be independent of the difficulty of attracting private manufacturers to new sites. It does not need to speculate on the coming of industries and workmen to those districts where, in any event, it is going to establish industries and attract workmen. All that the Government needs to do is to be careful in the selection of a site, properly to plan the area it proposes to develop, to lay down principles similar to those which underlie the Garden City scheme, and to set up an organization to provide good social conditions and up-to-date facilities for transportation and supply of community services. It has resolved on a policy of national housing. Is that housing to be entirely carried out on the short-sighted unscientific method of building small accretions to existing centers, where land-values are already high and there is no opportunity to start de novo and plan on scientific and sound economic principles ?

What can be the objection to creating new towns? It cannot be that the proposal is untried, since it has been shown to be practical under immensely more difficult circumstances than any government need encounter. It cannot be because the method is socialistic, since it is merely a question of selecting a scientific form of organization of community development in a case where the Government has already decided to adopt the policy of creating new communities. It cannot be because there are no brains to build new towns in a country where there is so much capacity for business organization, and it cannot be because of the novelty of the proposal in a nation which has been built up by the initiative and resourcefulness of its citizens.

Let us take a possible case for Government organization. Assume that in the vicinity of one of the large shipbuilding plants it is contemplated that permanent housing accommodation will be required for 10,000 well-paid workmen. These men, their families, and the people who are required to supply their various social needs, will mean that provision will have to be made for a population of 50,000. In such a case the proper thing to do is not to build up suburban accretions to existing cities and towns, to hand over the increment of land-value to speculators, to crowd the houses together to pay the high cost of the land, and to create profits for established highly watered public utility corporations, but to adopt the bold and more businesslike policy of creating a new town, just as the Steel Corporation would do.

An area of from 12 to 15 square miles of agricultural land should be acquired within 3 or 5 miles of the plant, near to a main line of railway. Rapid transit should be provided to enable the workers to get to the plant within fifteen or twenty minutes, the town should be planned, water-supply and other works installed, roads and sewers built, theatres, stores, and public buildings erected. Auxiliary industries should be provided for and encouraged. Private enterprise should be invited to assist in the structural development. The capital employed need not be greater than what will be needed for any other kind of scheme, as the saving in cost of land will be sufficient to pay the cost of providing public utilities and social services. After paying, say, 5 or 6 per cent on the capital employed, all profits should revert to the community for the benefit of the town. A large portion of the land should be permanently set aside as an agricultural estate.

Of the advantages of carrying out at least one example of scientific town-building on the lines indicated little need be said. It is obvious, at least, that no amount of theory will have a value equal to that of a practical demonstration in educating the people regarding the best methods of housing and community development. It may be that in carrying out such a scheme much will be learned regarding what should be avoided, as well as what should be followed, in connection with future developments; but that will add to the value of the scheme rather than detract from it. No suggestion is made that an experiment should be tried in the middle of a war; the experiment has been made and the advantage of the method proved.

The period of reconstruction after the war looms in front of all belligerent nations. Is reconstruction to consist of mere readjustment to the old set of conditions, with their failure to satisfy social needs, provide decent shelter and healthy environment for the mass of the people, and with menace to all democratic institutions? Or is it to be real reconstruction through which an effort will be made gradually to build up a healthier community life, wholesome in its environment in town and country, freed from false economic standards, and efficient in civic organization as well as in private enterprise?

Economic conditions of the present day teach us that the demands of labor can never be met by mere increase of wages. They will be met only by the scientific organization and equitable distribution of the national resources, and by a more serious effort being made to raise the standard of comfort and to conserve the human life and energy that is being wasted in the slum of the big city and the isolated hovel of the country. What is most needed to deal with the reform of civic conditions is the promotion of new methods of planning and organizing the growth and development of communities with the object of securing in each, as far as practicable, the combined advantages of town and country. The creation of a garden city may do no more than help to point the way, but that is precisely what is most needed; for, in matters of social and industrial reconstruction, we are all standing at the crossroads wondering which way to turn to make real progress.

1. Town Planning Adviser, Commission of Conservation (Canada); Fellow of Surveyors' Institution; Honorary Member, Institution of Municipal and County Engineers; Past President Town Planning Institute; Member Board of Governors, American City Planning institute; Formerly Town Planning Inspector, Local Government Board of England and Wales; Secretary and Manager, Letchworth Garden City.

2. Referring to conditions in South Wales, Mr. Thomas Richards, M.P., Secretary of the Miners' Federation, declares that socialism and syndicalism have made progress because of the sordidness and monotony of the housing conditions and home surroundings. . 

Selected, scanned, edited, provided with headnotes, and formatted as a web document by John W. Reps, Professor Emeritus, Department of City and Regional Planning, West Sibley Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA. Tel: (607) 255-5391, Fax: (607) 255-6681, E-mail: 
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